By / Jun 24

Last week there was a considerable amount of conversation generated after multiple screenshots of comments posted in a Facebook group began to circulate on the internet. The name of the group is not important, but both the content in question and the makeup of its members is. In the screenshots, very critical comments were captured about Aimee Byrd, the author of Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. And judging only from the handful I looked at, the comments were obviously intended to mock and belittle. Moreover, they were mostly posted by men. 

That men would take to social media to openly mock and ridicule a woman is disturbing, but worse still is the reality that a large number of the members of the Facebook group in which it was posted are pastors and ministers. To be fair, many people are members of discussion groups on Facebook and elsewhere that they never even visit. And some of these groups have such active participation that even those who engage more frequently can’t possibly be held responsible for the content or comments featured in every post.

But with those caveats aside, the issue is bigger than a small number of men attacking a woman on the internet. Consider for a moment, why some would object to Byrd’s work. In her books and other writings, Byrd questions a lot of established norms. Though she remains substantially aligned with more conservative positions on the roles of men and women in the church, her work has challenged practices that (she believes) wrongly portray Scripture’s teaching in this area and stifle the ability of women to utilize the gifts God has blessed them with. And in making her case and criticizing the status quo—specifically among conservative Reformed evangelicals—she has also criticized things this group holds in esteem. 

Byrd, for instance, has been a vocal critic of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), which is perhaps the main exponent of complementarian theology. But more than criticizing the organization, she has leveled specific criticisms at the theology undergirding portions of CBMW’s approach to gender roles and has at certain points questioned the orthodoxy of theologians like John Piper and Wayne Grudem.

Markers of fear and immaturity

Anytime a person questions an established norm they can expect pushback. And it’s generally true that the more significant the object of one’s criticism is, the more intense the pushback will be. When it comes to Byrd’s work, I have found myself challenged by her criticisms but largely in step with those she criticizes. But honestly, I wasn’t surprised by the kinds of mean and misogynistic comments that were leveled toward her, not because those kinds of things are acceptable, but because they are easily explained. In this case, the personal attacks that were leveled at Byrd can be explained, at least in part, by the same reasons that similar attacks are often wielded against other women in conservative theological circles.

Belittling, demeaning, or in this case, making a public spectacle of one’s ideological opponent is more than some kind of cathartic exercise. The truth is that all of us are more fragile than we like to pretend. And when we feel attacked, the natural response is to seek to protect ourselves. Often, when we turn to insult rather than engage someone who questions our beliefs, it’s about reassuring ourselves that we have taken up the right cause. Mocking an opponent instead of engaging their ideas is a way of saying to ourselves and those we agree with, “Look at them. They couldn’t possibly be right. Right?” 

That kind of behavior is a marker of fear and immaturity. It’s a way to stay safe in the retreat position. Besides, if you never actually engage someone you disagree with, you’ll never lose. Not only that, but sometimes we’re threatened by more than a person’s ideas. Sometimes it’s their popularity we find intimidating. We’re concerned too many people are coming under their influence, so we take every opportunity to tear them down in hopes that others would be too ashamed to be associated with such a controversial person or group.

No pass for disobedience

But whether one is surprised or not by this behavior, the point is that none of this conduct is becoming of a Christian. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught those gathered before him to treat others as they desire to be treated (Matt. 7:12). We know those words as the golden rule. And for most of us, they have grown familiar, as though it were Christianity 101. But what is so interesting to me is that many of us tend to act as though the longer we’ve been in the faith, the less important these “elementary” teachings are. In reality, this could not be further from the truth. A believer never gets a pass for disobedience, no matter how many theology books one has read or acts of service one has rendered.

Byrd deserves an apology. And she’s not the only one. No matter how embattled a person or group may feel, if they claim to be followers of Jesus, there is never just cause to treat another person with anything less than the dignity and respect every image-bearer deserves. If anything, this standard is raised even higher when it comes to our brothers and sisters in Christ  (1 John 3:14). And certainly this kind of charity and respectful engagement should be modeled by those in Christian leadership, especially if one believes (as I do) that God reserves specific pastoral and leadership functions for men. Believing this means men are called not only to protect women, but to show honor to them as well. And in this case men failed in spectacular fashion.

Aimee Byrd is not my enemy. She is my sister in Christ, and the cruel treatment she’s been subjected to is wicked and inexcusable. Those with the courage to put forward ideas and offer constructive, if critical, feedback will help make the church stronger. Man or woman, those who would speak and act in good faith, even when it dissents from the status quo, deserve to have their voices heard and their words taken seriously. They don’t deserve to become a punchline, and certainly do not deserved to be mocked or ridiculed on the basis of their sex or appearence.

Seeing this play out on the internet ought to give each of us pause. The sinful desire to mock or shame our opponents is not limited to men or to those with certain theological beliefs. It runs through all of us. We are broken, sinful, and fragile people. We want not only to protect ourselves, but for people to think well of us. But if we are a part of the family of God, we are called to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44) and turn the other cheek when we are wronged or mistreated (Matt. 5:39). And if we can do those things, surely we can love and bear with one another even in the midst of disagreement.

By / Jun 8

By now, you’ve probably heard of the rapidly growing social media app called TikTok that is taking the United States and the world by storm. It’s hard to describe just how influential and far-reaching TikTok has become so quickly. In less than two years since it was released, it has been downloaded over 2 billion times. In just the last quarter, TikTok was downloaded 315 million times—the best quarter for any app, ever. However, many Americans don’t know exactly what it is or how it works. Here are five things you should know about this viral app and how it is changing the nature of social media.  

TikTok is a platform for short videos often set to music.

TikTok was released worldwide on August 2, 2018, by ByteDance, a Beijing-based internet technology company founded in 2012. TikTok was created as the result of a merge with lip-syncing app Musical.ly. It’s often described as the first cousin of Vine, another popular app for short videos that was shut down in 2016. TikTok users can post short videos from 15-60 seconds with a massive library of music or sounds. These often take the form of lip syncing to clips of popular songs with a funny punchline, but users can also record their own sounds. These song clips have become so popular that some music labels are actually changing the names of their songs after release in order to make them easier to find and more accessible for TikTok users.  

The main page on TikTok is the “For You” page, which is an algorithmically generated stream of content from the entire platform. The AI system selects videos that it feels will appeal to you based on a number of contributing factors. While there is also a tab to only see content from creators you’ve followed, the default page when you open the app is the “For You” page, or FYP. This format ensures that viral videos gain traction quickly and often helps to create trends that other users can easily participate in. TikTok videos can also be easily shared on other social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and especially Instagram, which has helped it grow significantly due to wider exposure.  

TikTok’s user base is bigger than you would expect.

As of April 2020, TikTok has been downloaded over 2 billion times. That makes it the 7th most downloaded app of the last decade. The platform currently has around 800 million daily users, making it easily one of the top 5 most used apps available on mobile platforms. It’s more widely used than Twitter, LinkedIn, or Snapchat. TikTok is also one of the first and fastest growing social platforms specifically built in the smartphone era, meaning that it is mainly accessible via the mobile app rather than having an expansive desktop-based or mobile web user interface.  

Of those 800 million users who are consistently engaged on the platform, 90% report using the app multiple times a day. The average user opens TikTok eight times per day and spends around 52 minutes per day on the app. One reason that users spend as much time on the platform is that the videos have an autoplay feature, and many videos are selected by the AI system based on your preference of content.  

The top 50 TikTok creators have more followers than the populations of Mexico, Canada, the U.K, Australia, and the U.S. combined. Around 60% of daily users in the U.S. are between 16 and 24, according to TikTok statistics. And for 13-16 year olds, it’s more popular than Facebook. A recent report indicated that children now spend nearly the same amount of time on TikTok as Youtube in the U.S., U.K., and Spain. The platform has experienced incredible growth in the last few years, especially during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic and stay-at-home orders around the world.  

TikTok has provided a moment of levity in the midst of very difficult times, often through comical videos and popular music. Shira Ovide, a reporter at The New York Times, writes, “TikTok doesn’t necessarily show you the reality of the world. It’s about expression, but it’s not like anything we’re used to.” This shift in social media from delivering the news to allowing you to connect with other people, devoid of many of the controversies of the day, provides users a different online experience than much of what is on other platforms.  

TikTok is considered a threat to national security by the U.S. government.   

There is considerable controversy surrounding TikTok and its relationship with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). TikTok is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, and has repeatedly come under fire for censoring videos that paint the CCP in a negative light. For example, videos referencing COVID-19 in China are always taken down, as are posts referencing Tiananmen Square, Taiwan, or the Hong Kong protests. Last November, TikTok suspended a U.S. college student for posting videos about the Chinese government’s treatment of Uighur Muslims.   

As a result of these concerns, the U.S. government opened an investigation into whether TikTok is a national security risk. In a letter calling for an investigation, Sen. Marco Rubio stated, “The Chinese government’s nefarious efforts to censor information inside free societies around the world cannot be accepted and pose serious long-term challenges to the U.S. and our allies.” Numerous government agencies, including the TSA and Department of Homeland Security, have banned their employees from installing TikTok on their devices, and there is a growing concern about how much data the CCP has access to for regular citizens.  

TikTok has a concerning record on privacy, censorship, and offensive content.

Because of the potentially dangerous public-private partnership between TikTok and the Chinese government, there is a growing concern over digital privacy and censorship. In 2019, the FTC fined TikTok a record $5.7 million for illegally collecting personal information from children under 13. Additionally, college student Misty Hong filed a class action lawsuit in December 2019 alleging that TikTok collected personal data from her account, including videos she did not post, and transferred that data to servers in China.   

TikTok also has a controversial record on content moderation. It has been reported that its moderators have been instructed to remove videos posted by disabled, ugly, or poor users in order to keep more users engaged on the platform. While TikTok has pledged to hire independent firms to create new moderation policies, due to their control by the CCP, it seems that this unlikely will change.   

With lax content moderation policies, a large percentage of videos on the platform are centered around sexual jokes, innuendo, and even sexually explicit content. While TikTok censors nudity, this policy is loosely enforced, especially as sexualized content proliferates the platform. TikTok also does not censor profanity in its user uploads, which might disturb some users, particularly parents of teenagers and older children.  

Finally, TikTok likely has one of the largest percentages of sexual predators on any social platform, mainly due to the loose/nonexistent moderation and enforcement of platform rules. TikTok has repeatedly declined to suspend accounts of sexual predators, even after deleting the comments they posted.  

As with any social media platform, users need to be aware of how the platform works and the potential dangers of using it, particularly for children and teenagers. TikTok is a unique social media platform and experience, unlike most of its predecessors. It is one of the first major internet companies from China to have a global impact and reach, with many U.S.-based technology companies trying to mimic its success and experience.  

This unique and innovative platform has been harnessed to highlight social causes such as protests surrounding the horrific murder of African American Minneapolis man, George Floyd, right along side funny family dance videos, making it a distinct way for people to gather and express themselves online. As Shira Ovide from the Times noted, “it can be mindless fun, but it’s also a force to pay attention to.”  

By / Feb 10

Search bars are a technological marvel. Through them, we can search the limits of the world. We can see the seven wonders or learn of breaking news as it is happening. We can find more information in seconds than most people in human history had access to in their lifetimes. But search bars also expose some of our most personal and intimate moments, as you search for how to overcome infertility or even cancer. During the Super Bowl, Google ran one of the most powerful ads about the use of technology in a long time. 

In the commercial, a man asks his Google Assistant to remember a number of details about his wife and their marriage as he begins to lose his memory due to Alzheimer's. He searches for the places she loved to visit and even for anniversary photos of them from his photo library. Behind the emotion of this man’s story is the technology powering this tool. Google was using this commercial to show off the abilities of their Assistant platform, which is driven by artificial intelligence (AI). Google reminds us that we use AI each day to do many convenient tasks using our smartphones, tablets, smart speakers, and computers. Through this use of Google Assistant, we see how AI can be harnessed to remind us of what makes us human and the greater purpose of technology. 

What makes us human

So much of the hype surrounding AI flows from the ability of this technology to do things typically reserved for humans. Since the beginning of time, our technologies have only been able to aid us in our work and lives. But with the advent of modern AI systems, some tend to believe that today’s technologies are beginning to cross a line between a tool and something entirely different. This is especially true with smart assistants like Google Assistant, Alexa, and Siri.

Before the advent of AI systems used in voice recognition and natural language processing, we couldn’t communicate with our creations like we would another human being. While we can use our voices to interact with animals, we couldn’t have an actual conversation with anything else. But, we can now interact with our tools—powered by AI—as if they are human beings, which naturally begins to blur the line between us and “them.”

Amidst much of the hype about robots leaving us jobless or deciding to revolt against us, our creations will never be able to replace us because they were never created to be on par with us as God’s image-bearers. Our place in creation was secured by the Creator of the cosmos and can’t be changed by the advent of any technology. We are created higher and more valuable than the rest of creation as the only ones made in his image (Gen 1:26-28). 

Instead of replacing us, the Loretta commercial reminds us that technology can be designed and used in such a way that serves us, allowing us to connect with and cherish others created in God's image. I can’t tell you how many times I have added something to my Evernote notebooks so that I don't forget. Whether it is a note for work or even my wife’s shoe size for future gifts, this form of technology aids me by allowing me to extend my physical memory and live a more productive life. It serves me as I seek to become more like how God created me to be in the midst of a fallen world. 

The goal and purpose of all technological innovation is to serve us as we serve the Creator of the universe.

This is exactly what the man was doing throughout the commercial; he was asking his Google Assistant to remember things for him because of the brokenness that he was experiencing in his body. This is not the way that that world was meant to be, ravaged by sin, disease, and death. But by utilizing various technologies like AI, we can be active agents of God who reflect his image in us as we seek to roll back the effects of the fall in our world. While we will never ameliorate the effects of sin and disease, we reflect God’s imprint on us as we use the tools around us to love him and to love our neighbor.

The greater purpose of technology

Often in our consumerist and materialist world, we define humanity down by acting as if the value of our neighbors is based on their contributions to society rather than the God they were made to image. We assign someone’s value and dignity based on what they do or how they can help us. This is antithetical to the biblical message of dignity and an idea that we must reject. Regardless of our perceived value of others or their contributions to the greater good, each human being is created in God’s image and has infinite value and worth.

This was the underlying message of the Google commercial that brought tears to our eyes. In the ad, we see a man created in God’s image ravished by a disease that not only ruins our bodies but also our minds. He has no real contribution to his family or society. He likely would be seen as a drain on resources or even a burden to be carried, rather than a man fashioned by God. The AI in this commercial became a tool that this man used to remind himself of the little details of life and aid his calling as a husband and father. This ad serves as a reminder to all of us that technology is meant to amplify our lives rather than overshadow them.

The goal and purpose of all technological innovation is to serve us as we serve the Creator of the universe. It is easy to get that pattern flipped by forgetting God and then letting technology rule over us. It is tempting to cut ourselves off from the world around us for a few more minutes of breaking news on Twitter or construe our lives in such a way that the Instagram algorithms gains us more likes. It is easy to mold our lives around our technologies rather than mold our use and development of technology to our lives and the goal of human flourishing for all. 

I believe, as Christians, we are called to reflect the image of God in everything we do. For some, this might mean considering more carefully how our work developing technology is aiding the goal of human flourishing. For others, it will mean re-evaluating the ways we use these tools in our daily lives. Whether we are tempted to forget the purpose of technology in our lives because of the powerful ways we can use it today or maybe even because a disease is ravishing our minds, let's never forget whose image we are fashioned after and the life that he calls us to pursue.

By / Feb 3

It seems that everything about our lives is tied in some way to the internet and technology. Without these tools, our economy would be stifled, our national security would be weakened, and our communication with families and friends would be hampered. The internet drives so much of our lives.

Gone are the days of 14.4 and 28.8 kbit/s dial up internet of my youth. Our modern technologies have increasingly become dependent on mobile networks with blazing speeds. As our communities become more and more connected, we will need faster networks to power our current devices and those yet to come. 

Enter 5G networks. This technology has the potential to revolutionize everything about our lives, yet most of us know little to nothing about it.

What is a 5G network?

5G is a term used to categorize the 5th generation of wireless networks. 1G networks were designed for analog phone calls. 2G networks introduced digital voice communication. 3G was popularized around the introduction of smartphones like the iPhone 3G among others, which required the networks to carry data at speeds in order to power features like mobile web browsing and applications. 4G is the current standard for most cellular phones, including gigabit internet speeds often seen as 4G LTE service on your phone.

But with the rise of more complex devices and richer connectivity, 5G networks are beginning to be deployed around the world. As described by PC Magazine, 5G networks include “bigger channels (to speed up data), lower latency (to be more responsive), and the ability to connect a lot more devices at once (for sensors and smart devices).” 

There are three levels of 5G networks: low-band (which some U.S. carriers currently use), mid-band (up to 10 GHz), and high-band or millimeter-wave (20-100 GHz). High-band applications are very new, extremely fast, but have low distance.

Many current smart phones still run on 4G LTE networks in the U.S., with some able to use low- to mid-band 5G. It is expected that most cell phones debuting in 2020 will deploy all band 5G capabilities. 5G networks will be needed in order to support many future technologies such as the possibility of widespread deployment of driverless cars, surveillance tools, communication platforms, entertainment choices, drones, and continued automation through the use of robots and artificial intelligence.

Why is 5G so controversial?

Most of the news headlines that mention 5G networks focus on international relations and the race to 5G supremacy. China has an outsized influence in the discussions surrounding 5G because they have been able to broadly deploy 5G capable phones before the U.S.and other countries, with companies like Huawei taking the lead in building the necessary infrastructure and software.

The U.S. and China are locked in an intense technology race to become the predominant supplier of 5G networks worldwide, which has ramifications on issues such as national security and other technological innovations. These networks won’t just carry cat videos or the latest Netflix series, but also sensitive or classified information around the world between allies that needs to be kept in the right hands.

Christians stand for the vulnerable, oppressed, and voiceless wherever they happen to live because our God is a God of justice (Isaiah 1:17).

Just last week, Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, announced that they would strike a deal with the Chinese technology giant, Huawei, to build out the outer core of their coming 5G network. This was a surprising announcement given the pressure that the Trump administration has put on English leaders to ban Huawei, citing immense cyber security concerns with Huawei and the nature of the close relationship between the Chinese state and the company.

It is no secret that the U.S. and China are in a tight race for technological dominance and function differently in terms of the role of government in the free market. The Chinese party, under the leadership of Xi Jinping, has sought to use whatever means necessary to supercharge the Chinese market and industries. These subsidies and enlarged authority over private companies are a concern to many in the West because the Communist Party will exploit this public/private partnership at any time to ensure continued dominance over its own people and those throughout the world.

From the “Great Firewall of China,” which essentially has created a separate Chinese internet and blocks access to any Western influences, to the dangerously close relationship with Huawei and the potential privacy concerns for the world community, Chinese leadership knows that to maintain its edge in technological development they must stay ahead of the curve and help their companies grow. 

With Huawei’s growth worldwide in the rollout of 5G networks, many security experts warn that data will be compromised and accessed by the Chinese state at will. As national security expert and ERLC Research Fellow Klon Kitchen told the Washington Examiner, “The U.S. intelligence community will now (have to) make a determination on how this impacts intel sharing . . . But, to be sure, the British decision on Huawei fundamentally alters the relationship (between the US and the UK), and it hurts everyone's security.”

Why does this matter to Christians?

Much of the talk around 5G network build-out and deployment focuses on who is building the infrastructure and how it will be used. There are competing understandings of government and fundamental disagreements on the nature of human rights, as seen in the battle between Western democracies and authoritarian states such as China, Russia, and Iran. 

China already deploys many dehumanizing uses of technology in their own country, including their use of facial recognition in major cities as well as their systematic profiling and detainment of minority faith groups such as the Uhigur Muslims. Christians are rightfully concerned about the growing power that the Chinese Communist Party has over the Chinese people and the ways that they use their control to violate basic human dignity and rights. The Chinese have proven time and time again that they will stop at nothing to secure power and control for themselves as they seek to erode the dignity of anyone in their path.

We must confront these abuses of power and call for a recognition of basic human rights in China and across the world. All people are created in God’s image and that image is the basis for Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:39). Loving our neighbor in this context means standing up for their rights and seeking to suppress the spread of this authoritarian regime’s power in each of our daily lives. Christians stand for the vulnerable, oppressed, and voiceless wherever they happen to live because our God is a God of justice (Isaiah 1:17).

Left unchecked and unchallenged on the world scene, China’s government will continue to abuse these emerging technologies to dominate their citizens. The stakes are just too high for us to sit by idly. In a world where sensitive information and data is shared at lightning speeds on these digital networks, we must combat these authoritarian power grabs and stand up against injustice wherever it is found. Knowing the power these technologies hold for our societies and the risks involved in seemingly innocuous economic decisions—like those of the U.K.—is half the battle in defending the dignity of our neighbor across the street, and even across the pond.

By / Nov 21

While most of us were going about our day this past Saturday, the Iranian government shut down internet connectivity in their country. By the evening, government leaders had instituted a near total ban on access to the internet in hopes to quell the protests in the country over rising fuel costs implemented by Tehran over U.S. sanctions. The shutdown halted all communication in and outside the country, and this isn’t the first time this has happened in Iran. With the power of the internet at the fingertips of everyday people, authoritarian regimes across the world have sought to clamp down on public access to the internet, to what their people can access and share, all in hopes of retaining power and control.

What happened?

On Friday Nov. 15, Iranian officials began to institute the internet shutdown in certain major cities in Iran, such as Tehran, which began to experience service issues that soon spread to the entire country by Saturday night. All internet access, including mobile networks, were shut down. The cybersecurity NGO NetBlocks reported that connectivity in the country had dropped to 7% of its normal load on Saturday at 6:45 p.m. UTC. The NGO reported that it took nearly 24 hours for the block to affect the entire nation.

Fuel costs in Iran have skyrocketed as Tehran sought to overcome the sanctions instituted by the United States, which lead to fuel rationing throughout the country. Tehran raised the cost of fuel in Iran to make up for the loss of crude oil shipments lost over the sanctions. Amnesty International reported that at least 106 protestors have been killed so far. This has become the largest internet shutdown under the leadership of the current president, Hassan Rouhani. It is worth noting that supreme leader, Seyed Ali Khamenei, retained access to the internet based on his Twitter account usage throughout the shutdown along with other government officials. As of 4:17 a.m. on Nov. 19, NetBlocks reported that internet access had dropped to under 4%. Iran is essentially now disconnected from the world and completely isolated from the rest of civilization.

How does this happen?

The internet is essentially a massive network of various computers and servers swapping information. As the internet grew in prominence throughout the world, each country took different steps as they adopted this life-altering technology. Countries like China took a hands-on approach as they developed their internet system, building in complete control by the government. China has used this heavy-handed approach to technological development for atrocious means in recent years, culminating in the “Great Firewall,” which blocks the free and open internet, promoting the propaganda that flows from the Chinese Communist Party. Recently, news broke of the internment of millions of Uighur Muslims into concentration-like camps through the use of cyber surveillance and tracking.

Nations like Iran and Russia retrofitted their traditional private and decentralized systems, like those found in most western democractic countries, with various degrees of control over connectivity after the systems were designed in the hopes of retaining control over the information that flows from and to their people. As WIRED reports, these controls often take the forms of government coercion over internet service providers (ISPs), who are forced by government officials to follow these edicts. Other methods such as state-run ISPs like that in Iran also allow the government to exert control of the information that flows in their country. In the case of Iran, the past decade has seen the creation of an intranet run by the state-owned ISP that provides basic internet access to the Iranian people but with massive amounts of censorship and control by the government itself. This intranet is similar to those found in countries like China and their “Great Firewall.”

One of the seemingly unintended and unseen consequences of this type of communication ban in Iran is that information continues to flow even without the internet as people take to the streets and by other means.

Why does this matter?

You may be wondering how an internet shutdown across the world might affect you and your everyday life. We each use the internet almost constantly as we communicate with one another, perform work tasks, and listen to music. The internet is everywhere, including in our home appliances and our vehicles. We use it without thinking that many people do not have the free and open access that we enjoy each day. 

In the West, we’ve grown accustomed to these freedoms and forget that there are millions of people worldwide living under the repressive hand of authoritarian regimes. The internet is a powerful tool of communication that has allowed human flourishing and the democratization of information in ways that the world has never seen before, but it has also opened the door to atrocities that we could have never imagined.

Iranian leadership is reminding their people that their basic rights of speech, autonomy, and personhood are subservient to the needs of the government. The freedom of speech and conscience are basic to our democratic order. Our system of government in the U.S. recognizes the God-given rights of the individual and the basic liberties we enjoy. In 2016, the United Nations declared internet shutdowns and government censorship as violations of basic human rights. 

2019 marked the ninth year in a row that internet freedom around the world has dropped in connection with social media manipulation, as seen in a recent report of 65 countries by Freedom House. This troubling trend reveals the power of connectivity and its link to human rights. In a world where everything is tied to the internet in some capacity, a government should not have the power to institute a blackout at will in order to recentralize power and deny rights to its people.

One of the greatest benefits of technology, especially the internet, is the democratization of power and of information. Christians believe in the rights of the individual because we believe that every person is created in God’s image and has certain inalienable rights (Gen. 1:26-27). Thus, Christians must stand against such violations of human dignity wherever they are found, including those that suffer at the hands of authoritarian regimes like Iran and China. We must stand up for those that cannot speak for themselves, whether that is from physical oppression or a total block on communication with the outside world by authoritarian regimes bent on retaining power over the weak and exploiting them for their gain.

By / Oct 16

The statistics are truly astounding. American adults are now spending more than 11 hours a day consuming media. This includes reading, watching, listening to, and interacting with media. Four of the 11 hours are spent with their digital best friend, a smart phone or a tablet. And 21% of adults say they are constantly on the “digital leash.” Forty-five percent of teens say their eyes are always glued to their phones. On average, young people spend nearly nine hours online per day.   

The internet and our language  

What impact is this exposure having on our language, specifically language that can comprehensively communicate who God is and who we are? We know it is affecting our minds negatively. But what about our linguistic toolkit?  

The internet perpetuates three language cripplers: slang, distraction, and simplicity.   

Slang. It has been a part of people’s speech habits for centuries. It is quite appropriate in the right setting—usually an informal one. When to use slang, however, is becoming less obvious. Early research and anecdotal evidence reveals this. Tech slang, such as tonite, summin’, BTW, and ur, are found regularly in students’ written assignments. As well, slang has seeped into the Christian culture: in sermons, worship songs, on t-shirts, and the like. When speaking about the things of God, slang cannot haul the theological payload of the Bible with its trailer’s limited capacity.  

Distraction. Online data analytics show people spend very little time on a webpage, and those who begin reading an article are few with an even fewer number who finish reading it. This is not surprising because the majority of web pages are visual beehives. Websites are populated with click-bait, sidebar video, and pop-ups that zap any inclination to concentrate on one item. Naturally, rich, substantive language is not the choice du jour since the main goal is drive up website traffic. Furthermore, distraction acclimates the mind to be in need of constant change and enticement—a detriment to meditation, scripture memory, and study.   

Simplicity. Online strategists need to wrangle a viewer’s attention quickly, and to do that big vocabulary words are not conducive. A simple vocabulary often “rules the day.” As well, simple language characterizes many emails. The tool has made communication easier, but it frequently requires less mental effort and less time in crafting this digital postcard. The two can tend to cannibalize each other and shrink our linguistic framework—what we don’t use, we lose. The atrophy is evidenced, in one way, by the lack of rich language and imagery in many worship songs produced and desired by churches.   Why should we care about how robust or not-so-robust our language is? Because our souls benefit from it. A rich vocabulary is the vehicle by which the “meat” of the Word is delivered (Heb. 5:13-14, KJV).    

Biblical vocabulary  

The Bible contains rich vocabulary that greatly assists in knowing the Lord deeper.  Terms such as propitiation and transgression are prime examples. These words take the believer deep into the knowledge of God. For instance, sin is the common term used to describe disobedience to God. One may be tempted to think transgression is a synonym for sin. On the contrary, the two terms communicate two different sides of disobedience. In Hebrew, sin communicates the nature of disobedience. It means missing a goal or an intention—not glorifying God with one’s body or mind, which is the goal for which we were created.   

On the other hand, transgression literally means rebel or revolt. It provides more insight about one’s disobedience. It communicates the war-like motivation for disobedience. We do not disobey God because we lack the skills to glorify him; we disobey because we desire to revolt against his authority. The word sin does not convey this dimension.   

How is this linguistic knowledge helpful? One is able to see the severity of every act of disobedience from murder to grumbling to gossiping. They are all indicators of an active rebellion against the Almighty revealed in the purposeful negligence of reaching the goals of holiness set forth by God.  

Depth of vocabulary   

In addition to knowing the vocabulary of the Bible, it is also most helpful to have a depth of vocabulary knowledge. Depth of vocabulary is knowing a word’s different relations to other words in the text’s lexicon, which includes a word’s synonym, antonym, and its hyponymous status.   

Having this knowledge enables a Christian to understand in a more complete manner a term such as propitiation. Propitiation means a wrath-bearing substitute. Penal substitution is often a synonym for propitiation. Christ is a believer’s wrath-bearing substitute. He endured on the cross for the Church all of her collective eternal condemnation, and condemnation is one of propitiation’s antonyms. So, if one knows the meaning and weight of God’s condemnation, propitiation’s glory is seen more in its fullness than it was before.   

In regards to a word’s hyponymous status, this aspect assists the reader in understanding the context being used. The root word, hyponym, means “a term that denotes a subcategory of a more general class.” Propitiation is a hyponym of the judicial system. All are familiar with a country’s judicial system. Felons receive serious to severe sentences for their crimes and are never provided a propitiation by the presiding judge. God does, however. Hopefully, you can see how possessing this type of knowledge is not only for the good of vocational Bible teachers, but also for the good of the rest of us. A Christian’s personal Bible study becomes more fruitful, more transformative.    

Literary devices 

Another rich aspect of language is literary devices, and the Bible is brimming with them: metaphors, similes, paradoxes, personifications, synecdoches, metonymies, and more. Consider paradox, for example. It is a presumed contradiction that is actually valid. A familiar paradox is “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you” (Phil. 2:12-13). In other words, do the work even though, technically, you are not doing the work. God is, through you. In a mysterious manner, our thinking is greatly aided by the Spirit’s power.   

The point may be lost, however, on one who does not understand the nature of paradoxes. For the one who recognizes the device being used, he will strive to discern the text’s meaning because he recognizes Paul is communicating a truth in a unique way. Literary devices stop a reader in one’s tracks and push one to think deliberately about what has just been read.  

In light of living in the land of ones and zeroes, the Christian Church must remind herself of language’s scope in order to speak and write of God in “penetrating, imaginative, and awakening ways.” The Church must also guard against her linguistic framework being down-sized by technology. She must spearhead a linguistic renaissance, where needed, if her souls are to be enlarged with the knowledge of God. For a small language cannot handle a massive God.   

*This article was adapted from a larger piece, “The Current American-English Vernacular: Lightweight Language for a Heavyweight God.”

By / Aug 23

What just happened?

President Trump is considering issuing an executive order that would put the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in charge of determining how Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and other large tech companies curate what appears on their websites.

The change would radically alter the protections afforded to companies under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (see below for an explanation of Section 230).

In the Senate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has called for the Section 230 to be repealed altogether. “Right now, big tech enjoys an immunity from liability on the assumption they would be neutral and fair,” said Cruz. “If they’re not going to be neutral and fair, if they’re going to be biased, we should repeal the immunity from liability so they should be liable like the rest of us.”

Similarly, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., introduced a bill that would eliminate Section 230 protections for big tech platforms unless they could prove their political neutrality to the Federal Trade Commission every two years. ““With Section 230, tech companies get a sweetheart deal that no other industry enjoys: complete exemption from traditional publisher liability in exchange for providing a forum free of political censorship,” said Senator Hawley. “Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, big tech has failed to hold up its end of the bargain.”

In the House, Rep. Paul Gosnar has introduced the “Stop the Censorship Act” to amend section 230. “Despite their claims, Big Tech does not always foreclose on violent or obscene behavior; in fact, they often monetize it—but they do police political speech, said Gosnar. “Therefore, Big Tech’s immunity should strictly be for good faith efforts to remove actual unlawful content.”

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke recently also proposed changing it as a way to counter hate speech and gun violence in America. “We must connect the dots between internet communities providing a platform for online radicalization and white supremacy,” his website reads. Another presidential candidate, Kamala Harris, has said we must “hold social media platforms accountable for the hate infiltrating their platforms . . . If you don't police your platforms we are going to hold you accountable as a community.”

Rep. Ed Case, D-Hawai, also supports changing 230 so that it doesn’t shield platforms such a Airbnb from “facilitating illegal rental bookings.”

What is Section 230?

Section 230 (“Protection for private blocking and screening of offensive material”) has been called the law that gave us the modern internet. The law allowed a more open and free market of ideas and for the creation of user-generated content sites like Craigslist and Facebook by giving companies additional protection from litigation.

In the early 1990s, online services such as CompuServe and Prodigy were sued for the content they allowed from third parties. A state court ruling in 1995 suggested these services would receive more protection under the First Amendment if they did not moderate content at all. The result would have been that companies would have been incentivized to take a “hands-off” approach and not remove offensive material.

Many social conservatives, worried about the spread of pornography, lobbied Congress to pass the the Communications Decency Act, which penalized the online transmission of indecent content and protected companies from being sued for removing such offensive content.

Why some parts of the Act were later deemed by the courts to be a violation of the First Amendment, Section 230 was allowed to stand. Part C of the section covers “Protection for “Good Samaritan” blocking and screening of offensive material”:

(1) Treatment of publisher or speaker — No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.

(2) Civil liability — No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of—(A) any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected; or (B) any action taken to enable or make available to information content providers or others the technical means to restrict access to material described in paragraph (1).

What this means is that websites and companies, including Internet Service Providers (ISPs), that host or republish content are protected against a range of laws that might otherwise be used to hold them legally responsible for the speech or actions of those who use their product (such as commenters on a website). For example, websites like YouTube currently allow users to upload content directly to the site because the company will not be held legally liable for offensive material (though companies like YouTube typically remove offensive content after it has been posted).

CDA 230 also offers its legal shield to bloggers who act as intermediaries by hosting comments on their blogs, says the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF). As EFF clarifies, “Under the law, bloggers are not liable for comments left by readers, the work of guest bloggers, tips sent via email, or information received through RSS feeds. This legal protection can still hold even if a blogger is aware of the objectionable content or makes editorial judgments.”

Why are changes to Section 230 being proposed?

Depending on the politician, the changes to the law is considered necessary either to censor online content or to prevent online content from being censored.

Republicans, such as Trump, Cruz, Hawley, and Gosnar, believe social media companies like Facebook have an anti-conservative bias and are censoring content by conservatives.

In contrast, Democrats, such as Harris and O’Rourke, want to repeal 230 to encourage companies to censor offensive speech, including content that is considered “hateful” about gender identity and sexual orientation.

How would the changes affect Section 230?

As CNN notes, tech companies acting "in good faith" currently qualify for broad legal immunity when they take down objectionable content. The executive order (as currently drafted) asks the FCC to restrict the government's view of the good-faith provision. According to CNN, under the draft proposal, the FCC will be asked to find that social media sites do not qualify for the good-faith immunity if they remove or suppress content without notifying the user who posted the material, or if the decision is proven to be evidence of anticompetitive, unfair or deceptive practices.

Isn’t changing 230 necessary to prevent crimes such as sex trafficking?

Section 230 does not protect web platforms from criminal prosecution for posting illegal content (such as child pornography) or participating directly in illegal activities (such as facilitating sales of illegal drugs). Similarly, such companies are subject to state and local law and can be sued in civil court for violations of the law.

A change to Section 230 made in 2018 by Congress also clearly states that it has “no effect on sex trafficking law.” ERLC was in support of this policy change.

"The internet has become a haven for predators using it to traffic and sexually exploit innocent women and children," said ERLC President Russell Moore in 2017. "It is well past time to provide a legislative solution that allows victims of online sex trafficking to seek justice and restitution from the websites that facilitate their abuse. This legislation would close loopholes and ensure those complicit in the online sex trade would find no refuge in America's justice system."

Why it matters to Christians?

Increasingly, society is waking up to the reality of the influence that technology companies have on us. As the internet and these tools have grown in size and influence, it is important for us to think about the issues of free speech and the role of corporations and government in society. Many companies are working to provide outlets for free speech, such as the oversight board for content moderation at Facebook. How we as a society decide to deal with these issues will have a lasting impact on us and how these tools are used in society.

By / Jan 23

We live in a world saturated with information and news. We have more information at our fingertips at this very moment—with our smartphones, email inboxes, and 24-hour cable news—than entire generations in the past could access in a lifetime. There are many God-glorifying benefits to this access, but in this age of social media, we often prize immediacy over accuracy, and tribes over truthfulness, to the detriment of our society and culture.

James 1:19 reminds us that, even in our technologically-rich world, Christians have the responsibility and mandate from the Lord to “be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” The wisdom found in this text reminds us that we, as creatures, do not know everything and that our desire to speak quickly to public issues can lead us in ways that dishonor the Lord and betray the humanity of our neighbor (Matt. 22:37-39).

This especially rings true in light of the controversy last Friday afternoon between a group of Covington Catholic High School young men, a Native American elder, and Black Hebrew Israelites, all in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial. The reaction and retractions since the viral footages went live have been astounding and are a vivid reminder of why Christians, of all people, must pursue wisdom in how we communicate, the news we share, and the opinions we give in a world infatuated with social media.

Quick to hear and slow to speak

Our current culture has produced a mentality that we must respond to and comment on everything that takes place in the world, immediately. Social media isn’t the specific problem; we know that what we see online is just a symptom of a deeper, older issue that has been ravishing our world since the Fall. Technology itself is neither good nor evil. Instead, it provides an avenue for us to pursue and play out our age-old sins of pride, arrogance, and the pursuit of self-righteousness. Our ancient ancestors, Adam and Eve, were deceived by the devil in the garden as they sought to trust themselves rather than what God said (Gen. 3). But the Fall doesn’t just show us how broken we are and how our sin has produced unholy desires in our life. It also reminds us that we are not God even though we so desperately long to take his place.

The temptation of social media is that we feel more informed and connected than ever before as a society, even though we still do not have full knowledge of any given situation. James’ exhortation to us in his letter is to “be quick to hear” because we are not gods and never will be, regardless of what our devices try to tell us. Our lack of information should humble us and give us pause. We are all fallible creatures who serve an infallible and perfect God. He alone has all of the information and context. We fool ourselves into thinking that we know everything the moment a controversy ignites online.

The way to combat this temptation is to remind ourselves of who we are as God’s image-bearers. We can be “quick to hear” and “slow to speak” because we recognize our limits. Furthermore, we are called to these things because of how they affect our neighbors.

Pursuing civility

Being civil with others is not a new concept, but it’s being discussed more frequently due to the breakdown of tasteful discourse in our society. Often, it seems that passionate people on both side of the political aisle are unable to engage in debate with the concept of another’s dignity in mind. We categorize those who differ from our positions as “monsters,” “bigots,” and a host of other derogatory names that betray the humanity of God’s image-bearers.

Every generation believes that the time they live in is of utmost importance and that the debates they have will forever alter the history of our world. Reading historical accounts, however, is a helpful way for us to be reminded that the days in which we live are often not the most consequential in the arc of history. While significant events and debates are certainly taking place, we should avoid the posture that everything we face is superior and worth demonizing our neighbors over in order to “win” the debate.

We can both treat those with whom we disagree as people made in God’s image and have rigorous debates about our beliefs and various positions. We must pursue truth and love at the same time, a balance that Christ himself modeled perfectly for his people throughout his life. This balance of truth and love is the model for civility we should follow and will be a natural byproduct of those of us who seek to be quick to hear, and slow to speak.

We pursue civility in public discourse because all people, even the ones we might vehemently disagree with or be offended by, are made in God’s image and must not be treated as enemies. Christians know that we only have one Enemy (1 John 3:8; 1 Pet. 1:8-9; Eph. 6:12) One of the ways that we can fight against the powers of darkness in our world is to treat every human being, regardless of political position, party affiliation, or supposed worth to society with the value bestowed on them by God (Acts 26:18).

Taking time to listen and process the things that we hear, read, and experience will lead us to better conclusions and more God-glorifying discourse. James’s call for the church in the social media age is to pursue and proclaim truth as we love our neighbors. That often looks like God’s people taking time to slow down, listen to our neighbors, and demonstrate love as representatives of the King to a world that desperately needs to hear the message of salvation more than the latest hot-take.

By / Sep 12

“The glory of God is a human being fully alive. Moreover, the life of man consists in beholding God.” -St. Irenaeus

Our social media use, smartphone addictions, and television-binging sessions are changing us—and not for the better. In fact, we can find plenty of blog posts, articles, statistics, and news reports through those same devices that testify to the reality that we are losing basic relational skills, like empathy and communication.

Human relationship in the context of community is central to what it means to “love one another” and display the image of God. When we lose this, we lose a primary way of beholding God himself. Using Irenaeus’ logic, therefore, we lose “the life of man”—we are no longer “fully alive.”

If we take our calling as pastors seriously, we ought to think deeply about leading people to engage faithfully with technology without losing the necessary and loving engagement with other human beings we were made for. So, here are three things that pastors can teach and practice that will help our churches use technology, rather than be used by technology, and ultimately, behold God more than our devices.

Teach and practice hospitality

Our God is serious about hospitality. The Old Testament displays God’s heart to provide a home for the sojourner. In Psalm 23, God as the Good Shepherd “prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies.” And the New Testament is replete with commands to “practice hospitality.”

Of the eight people that live in my house, three of them don’t share my last name. They are young adults who come from non-believing or divorced homes, and they all spent too much time in front of screens. Most nights, my wife, my three kids, and the three of them sit around the dinner table and talk. We break up fights between our kids, tell funny stories, ask hard questions, and say things we have to apologize for. But, there is never a TV on or a phone at the table.

Breaking bread together without the manufactured distraction of a screen is one of the most human things we can do. It's a daily break in the ever-present call from technology. It slows the day down and makes everyone practice listening, talking, and responding to each other. Hospitality humanizes us by pushing us into community, not for entertaining guests, but to turn our homes from being fortresses of isolation, to hostels of discipleship.

Teach and practice the Sabbath 

With technology, we barely have to stop working. We can send a message at any time to anyone we know. And we can seemingly be anywhere and know anything we want with just a few taps. Technology makes an insidious promise of being “god,” much like the serpent in Genesis 3. When he tempted the woman, he awoke the craving for the incommunicable, or unshared, attributes of God while conveniently ignoring the image of God already displayed in humans.

The same story plays out in our lives today. We reject those good, hard things that display the image of God in us—love, compassion, and empathy—which are the ways he intends for us to imitate him. Instead, we chase after omniscience, omnipresence, and unimpeded power—all of which distort his image in us and cause us to distort his image in others.

This is why the Sabbath is such a beautiful gift from God. It forces us to stop and admit we aren’t God while we practice all the ways we are supposed to be like him. The Sabbath reminds us that the world won’t stop if we don’t respond to an email or a text in the next 15 minutes. It reminds us that we need God more than we need anyone or anything. Practicing the Sabbath is an act of humility and trust.

Keep the deep stuff face to face 

A few years ago, I noticed that I was revealing more to my wife about my thoughts and feelings through text than I was face to face. It was almost like the people we were in our phones were different than the people we were in person. Neil Postman, in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death, warned that the medium we use to communicate changes the message. When I was communicating deeply with my wife through text, the “me” in the phone started to become more connected to her than the “me” in the flesh.

Social media allows us to develop connections that aren’t real. We can say things into echo chambers without looking another person in the eye. It produces a false sense of security; safe behind a screen, we get to choose whether we want to face the consequences of our political rants, dogmatic parenting “advice,” or condemning theological positions. We don’t have to see the hurt or humanity in another person’s eyes. We lose empathy, understanding, and a sense of risk.

So, the deepest truths, as much as possible, should be communicated in the flesh. For example, our pastoral leadership does not counsel through text or email. Like our Savior, who is the Word made flesh, we want to be an embodiment of his glory to the families, church, and communities he has entrusted to us.

Technology isn’t evil. Yet, as with all that we create, there is an evil twist that beckons us to “be like a god” and reject the Imago Dei. As humans, and even more so as Christians, our diagnostic question regarding all technology should echo Ireneaus: “Am I beholding God with this device? And will it help me to be fully alive?”   

Read the latest edition of Light Magazine here.

By / Jul 23

Every new communication technology is disruptive, often in history-altering ways. Nearly 600 years ago, Gutenberg’s printing press ushered in a revolution in education, politics, and religion, including fanning the flames of the Protestant Reformation. Just 11 years ago, Steve Jobs’ iPhone ushered in a similar revolution, one we are only beginning to grasp.

Will the smartphone still be around in 600 years? I doubt it, but no one knows for sure. What we do know is that in its first decade of existence, the smartphone is already changing how we view communication. What are those changes? Are they good or bad for society? These are important questions to ask of any new technology, and I consider them in light of one particular aspect of the smartphone era: the phenomenon of “push notifications.”

The consequences of efficiency  

It used to be a thing of joy to receive a letter in the mailbox. In the early days of the internet, "you've got mail" was a happy notification. These days, I find most forms of “push notifications” to be anxiety-producing. Why? Because they signal a tidal wave of nonstop communication that is relentless and punishing.

How does one stay sane in a world where on any given day, people message you through email (multiple accounts), Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, SnapChat, Voxer, WhatsApp, Slack, Skype, Google chat, and texts (to name a few)? All these forms of communication are efficient. But what are the unintended consequences of that efficiency?

Here are two points we should consider:

1. Chronic catch-up

Because inboxes are never empty and notifications on a plethora of platforms pop up around the clock, I find myself in a constant state of catch-up. I try to make headway on my email inbox, but then there are Facebook messages and Tweets I need to reply to. There are Voxer messages from my fellow elders at church about urgent pastoral situations. Various coworkers need my insights on Slack, and my wife is messaging me over chat.

All of it feels urgent, demanding timely replies. And the cumulative effect is that it reduces would-be meaningful interactions to mere checklist to-dos: “Text ___ back.” “Respond to ___’s email.” “Post ____ article on Twitter.”

But in this frenetic flurry of catch-up, the “communing” sacredness of communication can be lost. We are often too bombarded and harried to make space for considered, attentive, meaningful communication. The smartphone has always been touted as a tool of efficiency, and so naturally this is how we use it. But what if communication is degraded when it becomes too efficient? A tweet or a text in response to someone may be quick and easy, but is that always the wisest way to respond?

Christians, especially, should be mindful of how the efficient view of communication changes how we relate to people. Are we treating them with dignity, giving them our attention and presence? Or do we demean and cheapen them through our quick-draw posture?

When we are spread so thin, across dozens of communication platforms and with hundreds of “friends” and “connections,” the need to “update” the masses can trump the nobler desire to connect with a few people more personally and profoundly. In our hectic, breathless days, we may be tempted to send a quick text or email to someone who actually deserves a more substantive and careful response.

2. When everything is important, nothing is

There is an “everything is urgent and important” quality to the smartphone and its ambience of buzz/ding/beep push notifications. Whether it’s a text message that ends in the ubiquitous words “let me know,” a BREAKING NEWS alert, or something #trending that you simply can’t not know about, the smartphone constantly reminds us of things to do and know about, and people to communicate with. At least five times every day I see social media declarations that something is a “must-read,” “must-watch,” or “must-listen.” The glut of “essential” content means our must list gets longer and longer, adding to our already lengthy queue of communication to-dos.

This is part of why we can’t put our smartphones down, checking them hundreds of times per day. What are we missing? We don’t want to be out of the loop. Plus, there is an undeniable thrill to seeing new notifications. Psychologists have noted the way smartphone notifications trigger a dopamine rush that becomes addictive. As psychologist David Greenfield recently told NPR, “Smartphone notifications have turned us all into Pavlov’s dogs.”

One of the (many) side effects of notification addiction is that we lose a sense for what is actually important and urgent. Do we really need to read every “news” story that comes across our phones? The leveling aspect of information that comes to us on our smartphones—sports scores next to CaringBridge cancer updates next to theological debates about gender roles next to videos of your aunt’s cat—can have a numbing, trivializing effect. Neil Postman noted this, presciently, in his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death, in which he talked about the “Now. . . this” nature of televised news:

"Now, this. . ." is commonly used on radio and television newscasts to indicate that what one has just heard or seen has no relevance to what one is about to hear or see, or possibly to anything one is ever likely to hear or see. The phrase is a means of acknowledging the fact that the world as mapped by the speeded-up electronic media has no order or meaning and is not to be taken seriously.

Because the smartphone tends to perpetuate an exaggerated sense of the importance and urgency of everything, we can naturally get sucked into its orbit, to the point that we neglect the truly important and urgent matters in our own lives, families, and communities. Indeed, one of the great perils of the smartphone is its capacity for destructive distraction: drawing our attention in a thousand different directions when our priority should be on the proximate people and local problems in front of us.

The smartphone’s push notifications can crowd out the more vital flags and warning lights in our lives that should grab our attention. Are you spending quality time with your spouse and children? Do you read the Bible and pray in the morning, before you check your phone? When was the last time you invited someone over for dinner? Are you paying attention to your physical health? Have you had a substantive, in-person interaction with a close friend recently?

If your smartphone is crowding out these more-important “life notifications,” do something about it. Turn off your push notifications. Consider downgrading to a “dumb” phone that only does two or three things. Set things up so that the agenda for your time and attention is set by the life right in front of you—your home, church, workplace, community—rather than the smartphone maelstrom.

Read more articles on technology in the Summer 2018 issue of Light Magazine here